Tag Archives: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

You Just Got Boba-Fetted

Warning: Spoilers ahead for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi.’

Nobody hates Star Wars movies more than Star Wars fans do. This is made no more apparent than with their spiteful reaction to its most recent sequel The Last Jedi, which is currently sitting at 49% on Rotten Tomatoes and 46 on Metacritic among its users. That’s lower than any of the prequel movies, including The Phantom Menace. The critics conversely say it’s one of the best Star Wars movies ever made, with many arguing that it’s even better than The Empire Strikes Back. I have a question for both of these viewers: are you all out of your minds?

The Last Jedi is not the best Star Wars movie by any means. Honestly, it doesn’t even break the top five. Yet, I find Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be challenging both to the series’ characters and to ourselves as fans. That’s because it throws both of us through loops nobody was expecting, forcing us to digest shocking, life-changing choices and fully confront their implications face-to-face.

SOURCE: Forbes

Take, for instance, Luke Skywalker. A lot of fans were angry at how writer-director Rian Johnson represented Luke in the film as an exhausted and defeated old man who had lost faith in the Jedi and in himself. Even Luke Skywalker himself was frustrated at how he was handled in the film, with actor Mark Hamill going so far as to say this version of Luke isn’t his Luke Skywalker.

“Jedis don’t give up,” he told SensaCine in December. “I mean, even if he had a problem, he would maybe take a year to try and regroup, but if he made a mistake he would try and right that wrong, so right there, we had a fundamental difference. But, it’s not my story anymore. It’s somebody else’s story, and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective.”

Exactly. Actors disagree with their directors on how their characters should be portrayed all the time. Even Harrison Ford wanted George Lucas to kill off Han Solo in Return of the Jedi (although the character later met his demise at the hands of his son in The Force Awakens). A disagreement with your director on a character’s direction doesn’t necessarily mean its the wrong direction; just a different one. And that’s exactly what Johnson was aiming for: a Luke Skywalker who lost his way, devoid of the hope he once possessed and lacking the faith that made him a Jedi in the first place.

But just because he isn’t the hero you remember, doesn’t mean he still isn’t the hero at all. I found myself strangely caught up in Luke’s emotions in the opening moments of the film: of him once again meeting Chewie and asking where Han was, sneaking onto the Millennium Falcon and reminiscing on old memories, finding R2 and seeming so happy to see his old friend again. I actually teared up at the moment when he told R2 that he was never coming back and that nothing was going to change his mind. R2 uttered a beep, spurred his head around, and lit up a projection of the first message that brought them together in the first place: his sister Leia begging “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are my only hope.”

We weren’t seeing Luke Skywalker the swashbuckling space hero in The Last Jedi. We were seeing Luke Skywalker as a broken fragment of what he once was. That makes sense, because in the context of the Star Wars universe, these characters aren’t invulnerable movie icons that live happily ever after. They’re just people, complete with their own flaws and doubts that make them penetrable with their emotions. Characters change in movies because people change in real life. What makes characters like Luke a Jedi is not succumbing to their failure or regret, but instead resolving to get past their own feelings and do the right thing, which Luke eventually does in this movie.

Also, if you have a problem with Luke’s attitude and exiling himself, Johnson is not the right person to blame for that. Director J.J. Abrams is, as he was the one who first banished Luke to that gaudy island in The Force Awakens in the first place. Johnson was just following through on the implications made in the first film. Don’t shoot the messenger for what the tax collector handed to him.

CREATIVE COMMONS

There are other elements in the picture that don’t work as well. One of those is the planet Canto Bight, where Finn (John Boyega), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), and BB-8 travel to recruit a code breaker to get them onto the First Order’s Star Destroyer. This side-plot felt removed and out-of-place, forcefully injecting themes of animal brutality, war profiteering, and capitalism in a movie that’s most known for its big space battles and lightsaber duels. Mind you, I didn’t hate the sequence. Boyega and Tran had a good enough chemistry to keep me engaged throughout, and BB-8 is such a quirky character that I can enjoy watching him no matter what mundane plot he’s going through. But the scene itself was awkward and disjointed. It felt weird to go from a fast-paced chase in outer space to essentially a dragged-out casino scene where our heroes narrated exposition on unnecessary social commentary.

However, I don’t think that scene itself was the problem. The problem was Laura Dern’s character, whom I simply refer to as “Purple Hair Lady” considering that is her most distinguishing feature. This whole sub-plot arrived because she refused to tell Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) the plan to outrun the First Order to make a point about following orders. Yet when you’re about to be killed by Hitler’s equivalent of a First Order maniac, I would think you would put personal vendettas aside and focus on the important tasks at hand, mostly saving your crew. Because Purple Hair Lady didn’t do that, she confused Poe and the others, threw them into the Canto Bight subplot, which ended up being meaningless because they got caught anyway, and to make matters worse, her secrecy actually endangered the mission, with the captured Finn and Rose inadvertently leading the First Order to attack the escaping life pods instead of the main Starship. Basically, 40 minutes of the movie could have been cut if Purple Hair Lady provided only one line of dialogue to a concerned Poe. That’s not a lapse in judgement. That’s poor writing.

However, that scene where Purple Hair Lady takes the Starship and suicide lightspeeds into the Destroyer was amazing. That scene made it into my top five favorite visual moments out of the entire series.

SOURCE: IGN

The worst part of the movie unequivocally comes with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who is abruptly killed off halfway through the movie in a moment nobody was expecting. Admittedly, the scene was very cool, with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turning his lightsaber using the Force towards his master while tricking him into thinking that he’s going to kill Rey (Daisy Ridley). Instead, he kills Snoke and teams up with Rey to take down Snoke’s Pratorian guards, which leads into a lightsaber fight so spectacular that it barely nudged into my top five lightsaber duels of all time. There’s just something really satisfying about a bunch of lightsaber weapons crackling into each other all at once here.

But upon sitting over it, I realized that we still know nothing about Snoke. We don’t know where he comes from, how he knows the Force, when he met Ben Solo, how he tempted him over to the Dark Side to become Kylo Ren, and how he gave rise to the First Order. This was one of the most intriguing characters introduced in The Force Awakens, and here he is needlessly axed off like Boba Fett was thrown into the Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi. Is that a fair treatment of a character? I wanted to know more about him before his climactic death, maybe in a duel with Luke or Rey before biting the lit end of a lightsaber. Thanks to Johnson, we’re never going to get that, and that’s the most frustrating aspect of the film.

Side-note: I do humor the possibility that Snoke might make his return as a Force ghost in Episode IX. Throughout the movie, Rey and Kylo are connected through the Force to conversate, and later on Snoke reveals that he was the one connecting them. Yet after he died, Rey and Kylo were connected once again briefly before Rey took off in the Millennium Falcon. Is that potential foreshadowing for the character’s return?

SOURCE: ComicBook.com

There are two changes to the Star Wars lore that were jarring upon my first viewing, but upon further analysis I grew to eventually accept. The first one is the reveal of Rey’s parents. After the aforementioned battle with the Pratorian guards, Kylo asks Rey to join him with the First Order so they can rule the galaxy. To tempt her, he asks her to confess who her parents were. With tearful eyes and quivering lips, she hesitantly said:

“They were nobody.”

And that’s that. Kylo Ren tells her that she was sold off into slavery for drinking money, that she comes from nothing, and that she is nothing. Rey’s parents are nobody.

For all of the hype built up in The Force Awakens, this is reasonably disappointing to many fans. Here I was thinking she was either a Skywalker or a Solo, and it turns out that she’s neither. I was at first extremely frustrated by this weak reveal, but as I further lulled on it I came around to liking it. Mostly because it’s poetic in how someone who came from nothing can grow to become someone so important in the Star Wars saga, but also because it makes the tragedy of the character all the more real.

The series, in hindsight, is a story about family: the ones we come from, the ones we don’t have, and the ones we make for ourselves. Anakin had only one family in his mother and wife, and both were taken from him. Luke lost his family in a raider attack, but found a new one in his sister and in his father that he never knew. And Rey likewise was abandoned by her family, but now finds a new family among people who lost their own families as well. It’s a really sweet sentiment that I appreciated the film for exploring. Even if her true parentage is retconned in Episode IX, I at least appreciate that they have that underdog theme going on in there.

The second is how Luke dies in the movie. In admittedly one of the best scenes in the film, Luke shows up on this salt planet (yes, a salt planet, don’t ask) to defend the Resistance from the First Order. After all the AT-AT’s fire a barrage of blasts at Luke and he deflects them all (he humorously brushes it off like a leaf fell on him), Kylo Ren emerges from his cruiser to face his former master. As Luke kept frequently dodging Kylo Ren’s attacks and sidestepping his lightsaber swipes, I caught myself wondering why Luke wasn’t swiping back? Or why his feet weren’t leaving footprints on the salty surface? I got my answer shortly after: Luke isn’t actually on the salt planet. Instead, he’s still mediating on a rock back on his exiled planet, and since he overexerted himself by making a Force projection from star systems away, he collapses, faces the sunset, then vanishes into the Force like his masters Obi-Wan and Yoda before him.

I was extremely disappointed with this upon my first viewing, mostly because it wasn’t the ending that I wanted for Luke. I had built up in my mind years ago a big, epic duel between himself and Snoke, while Rey and Kylo Ren possibly fought each other in the background. The fact that he passed on through the Force instead of meeting some epic end like Han did in The Force Awakens? It felt like short-changing the character itself.

Again though, the more I thought about it, the more this ending made sense. First of all, how was Luke going to get to the salt planet? His X-Wing was drowned in the ocean back on his island, and he didn’t have an Astromech droid to co-pilot it. Not an ideal scenario for sure, but if you’ve written Luke into a corner on the far side of the galaxy, it wouldn’t make much sense to ham-fist an explanation into there just so Luke can fight on the salt planet, now would it? As Luke mentions in the film, he went into exile for one purpose: to die and bring an end to the Jedi. For someone who seems so committed to that purpose, it wouldn’t make sense for him to stow away an escape pod somewhere on the island so he can just opt out of suicide, now would it?

Second, Luke isn’t the Jedi that he once was. As Rey mentioned earlier in the film, Luke purposefully closed himself off from the Force as penance for his past actions. This implies that even though Luke is still in-tune with the Force, he’s not all-powerful as he once was, nor are his fighting skills as refined as when he was younger. Stacked together, we have an aged, crippled Luke stranded across the galaxy on an isolated planet with no way of getting off, who still needs to save his family star systems away regardless. So what does he do? He Force-projects himself across the galaxy to distract the First Order, exhausting himself fatally, ultimately sacrificing himself so that the Resistance can get away and fight another day. It’s not the ending I would have preferred, but I can’t deny that it works in the context of this film. It’s just one of those cases where what I wanted as a fan conflicts with objectively reviewing the film as a critic. That happens once in a while, where your cinematic intuitions contradict one another in a film.

And yet, the moment was still strangely sentimental, with Luke ending his place in the series the way it began: facing the sunset, staring at the two suns shining down on him, hopeful for what the future will bring. Unfulfilling, yes, but this was the ending Luke chose for himself. Even though I felt let down with Luke’s return, I have to admit there is something satisfying about Luke finding peace with himself after all of these years of suffering that he’s had to endure.

I will not deny that I felt disappointment with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A lot of fans did. And yet, the movie was about disappointment. Luke’s disappointment in himself and the Jedi way. Kylo Ren’s disappointment in his masters, both from the light and dark side. Poe Dameron’s disappointment in the Resistence. Finn’s disappointment in his friends that betrayed him. Leia’s disappointment in her allies who abandoned her. Rey’s disappointment in her life’s heroes and with who she was and where she came from.

Yet through that disappointment, frustration, and failure, something good came out of it. Our heroes grew. They matured. They became better people, and they became more, not less, motivated to fighting their enemy and protecting each other. And that catharsis is the point of the movie: the fact that tragedy can bring about strength and growth.

In a throwback moment to The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda appears as a Force ghost to Luke and tells him that failure is the greatest teacher: that it educates us beyond anything we can learn by ourselves. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda tells Luke in a touching moment. Hopefully the fans who hated this movie can learn to grow up like the rest of the characters in this series do.

Post-script: The Porgs are cute. I have nothing to add beyond that.

SOURCE: StarWars.com

– David Dunn

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Top 10 Films of 2017

2017, you suck. From the bottom of my barely-beating black heart, you suck.

You have done nothing this year to give anyone recompense for the misery you put them through the year before, nor have you restored anyone’s already-lack-of-faith in humanity. The hurricanes that ravaged Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The wildfires burning California to a crisp. The mass shootings from Sutherland Springs all the way to the Las Vegas strip. North Korea’s Nuclear-powered temper tantrums with the United States. The rise of the white supremacist snowflakes. All of the sexual assault scandals ranging from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore. Not to mention the retweeter-in-chief sitting in the oval office right now.

I thought 2016 was bad. 2017 was so horribly deformed that Father Time looked down at it next to all of his yearly children, broke down weeping, and cried out “What have I done?!”. Thank God the movie theater was here to give us some relief from this year’s misery and nonsense.

A few housekeeping items before we get into this year’s top 10. First of all, as a general disclaimer, this list only includes movies that I have seen in 2017. I realize that movies such as The Shape of Water and Lady Bird may very well deserve to be on this list. However, I have not seen those movies, and I am not going to give unearned praise to movies that I have not reviewed on my own.

Second, this is a list of my personal favorite films from 2017. As this is the case, there are going to be absentees from this list that you’re going to be frustrated by. I know you thought Split and Dunkirk were the greatest films of the century and won’t survive unless you lick the film stock every two seconds, but I’m afraid to tell you that both of those movies sucked. A lot of films from the year have had a lot less to work with, yet have done a lot more with their material. They’re the ones that are going to be recognized on this list; not Mr. and Mrs. Oscar bait.

Speaking of having less to work with, let’s recognize this year’s special prize selection before we get into my top 10. Every year, I select one limited release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, and yet achieved more thematically despite their smaller viewership. This year, my special prize goes to…

Special Prize: Your Name

SOURCE: Toho

A beautifully animated and emotionally poignant portrayal of love, joy, heartbreak, soul-searching, and the human connection that all of us share. Makoto Shinkai’s phenomenal animated film tells the story of Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), two Japanese teenagers who switch bodies every week against their will. This exploration of perspective and identity is integral in learning these character’s relationships, and as their soul intertwine, we come to learn and care more about these characters and their plights. And the animation is colorful, vibrant, and gorgeous, transforming seemingly simplistic sights into breathtakingly extraordinary ones. There have been many incredible animated films released this year, including Coco and Loving Vincent. Yet none are as inventive and captivating as Your Name is.

Now enough with the formalities. Let’s get into the only 10 good things to come out of 2017, starting with:


10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The most recent film in the Star Wars saga, a film about our heroes letting us down, our expectations not being met, and our resolutions failing to be reached. When Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally comes face-to-face with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she seeks his guidance in training her to become a Jedi and help save her friends from the tyranny of the First Order. The visual effects and the action are nothing short of gorgeous, with the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, lightsabers, droids, and creatures across the galaxy reaching out to you and placing you vividly in the moment of any scene. Frontrunners Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill shine in the film’s key roles, with Hamill specifically reprising Luke in a grimmer, more mournful façade. A great addition to the Star Wars saga, but one that nonetheless challenges your identity as a fan of the series. The Last Jedi will definitely be a heavily-talked about conversation topic for Star Wars fans for years to come. Three and a half stars.

9. Baby Driver

SOURCE: TriStar PicturesA sleek, stylish, and electric action-drama booming with nostalgia, in-cheek humor, and a hot-blooded soundtrack to boot. When a getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) decides he wants to get out of the criminal life, he has to go through his boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and assassins Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to save his girlfriend Debora (Lily James) and hit the road running. Elgort is a powerhouse in the lead, portraying a conflicted young man guided by a moral compass in a place where it points nowhere. The action and comedy blend together perfectly, with writer-director Edgar Wright framing the film as a homage to classic 1980’s espionage films. And the soundtrack is infectious in its appeal, with featured artists such as The Beach Boys, Queen, and Simon and Garfunkel here to keep your feet tapping. The year’s biggest surprise hit. Three and a half stars.

8. Logan

SOURCE: 20th Century FoxHugh Jackman’s last outing in a role that he has served well for more than 17 years, a finale that is equal parts violent, action-packed, emotional, heartbreaking, and powerful. When Logan (Jackman) is approached by a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keene) asking for his help, he teams up one last time with his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) to save Laura from the men that are after her. Refusing to shy away from the bloody, hard-R violence that made Deadpool a mainstay, Logan is the most emotional, the most vivid, and the most grounded story told in Wolverine’s saga. Instead of the action and the visual effects, writer-director James Mangold chooses to focus on something more practical to Wolverine: his humanity. Like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2, Logan relates to us on a more human level as opposed to a fantastical one, and the characters deal with real struggles as human beings, not as superheroes. Jackman and Stewart also give the most defined performances of their careers, playing their characters in their most vulnerable, broken appearance to date. Time will remember Wolverine for the hero. I will remember Logan for the man. Three and a half stars.

7. Get Out

SOURCE: Universal PicturesA strange, surreal, and deeply unusual horror film, but also immediately relevant to its intended audience. When an interracial couple goes to visit the girlfriend’s parents for a weekend getaway, they discover that her parents aren’t all that they seem: and neither are their neighbors. “Key & Peele” co-creator Jordan Peele comes forward here in his directing debut as a masterful storyteller, deconstructing and elaborating on white privilege and the devastating effects it can have on individual lives. Daniel Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery respectively delivers the films most climactic and comedic moments, with Kaluuya particularly impressive in portraying a character that is confused, scared, and victimized in a situation where no one is coming to help him. Get Out is one of the most creative, compelling, riveting, and darkly humorous films I’ve seen in years. It works across the board as horror, comedy, drama, or satire. Take your pick. Three and a half stars.

6. Thor: Ragnarok

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion PicturesMarvel’s standout of the year, a movie that has absolutely no business being this good or memorable. When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) starts getting visions of Ragnarok, the prophesied destruction of Asgard, he has to team up with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to stop Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) from destroying Asgard. Packing five different genres into one unorthodox mess of perfection, Thor: Ragnarok is a funny comedy, a thrilling action movie, an exciting adventure, a heartfelt drama, and a groundbreaking superhero epic all at once. The comedy hits exactly the right notes with the right lines. The drama, while at times a little too brisk, strikes with the emotional chord that it needs to. The action scenes are thrilling. The visual effects, mesmerizing. The music, synthesized and catchy. Even the Easter Eggs are infectious in their appeal. I haven’t had this much fun in a superhero movie since The Avengers in 2012. Yes, I’m comparing Thor: Ragnarok to The Avengers. Don’t knock it until you try it. Four stars.

5. It

SOURCE: Warner Bros. PicturesA terrifying and insightful personification of fear made possible by the brilliantly mad mind of Stephen King. When a group of kids discover an omniscient being disguised as a clown haunting their hometown, the children decide to team up and put an end to it’s villainy once and for all. The cast takes center-stage in a horror film fueled by complex emotions and ideas, with Bill Skarsgard perfectly embodying the madness and bloodlust that the iconic character Pennywise the dancing clown would possess. Director Andy Muschietti also smartly compares and juxtaposes human nature with that of a predator’s nature, asking us if these two concepts can exist in the same society. It is visually dynamic and haunting, with the makeup and costuming on Skarsgard being among the best work I’ve seen in years. A thoughtful, captivating, and intensifying look into the psychology of fear and how it affects our flawed perceptions of life. Four stars.

4. Detroit

SOURCE: Annapurna PicturesA cruel, horrifying, and maddening fact-based account of one of the most egregious cases of police brutality in American history. During the 12th Street Detroit riots of 1967, a team of rogue cops infiltrate their way through the Algier’s Motel and pin the inhabitants against the wall, demanding to know if they’re hiding any weapons inside the building. As the hours pass, the teenagers soon realize that this is not a run-of-the-mill police checkup, but instead a fight for survival between themselves and the men who are supposed to be upholding the law. Thoroughly researched and accurately dramatized from the Academy Award-winning team of screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit is one of the most riveting and essential pieces of cinema you can watch this decade. The details of this real-life account are haunting and tragic, and the cast equally commits to recreating this monstrous night with passionate urgency. Newcomer Algee Smith especially shines as a troubled R&B musician, a terrified kid caught in this confusion of racial prejudice and hatred that permanently damages him for the rest of his life. Don’t turn away from Detroit. Watch and be horrified by our nation’s history. Four stars.

3. Wonder Woman

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

A blessing to both cinema and gender equality, a film that propels its female protagonist as not only just as capable as the men around her, but in many scenes is better suited for more difficult tasks. Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince, an Amazonian born on the hidden island of Themyscira where her and her Amazonian sisters reside. When Ares the God of War makes his return to wreck havok on the planet, Diana suits up in Themyscira’s sacred armor, lasso, shield, and sword and sets out to defeat Ares and save the world. The action is fast-paced and enthralling, with Wonder Woman charging through German soldiers and toppling over buildings like the aftermath of a Superman battle. Yet, the softer moments leading up to the action is what captures us the most, with Diana finding her place in a constantly shifting world ruled by male conflict and ego. Gadot remains emotionally persistent throughout the picture, while director Patty Jenkins handles both visually spectacular scenes and emotionally grounded moments with a surprising amount of finesse. In a day and age filled with cold, bleak, heartless blockbusters, Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air we all desperately needed. Four stars.

2. The Big Sick

SOURCE:

One of the most pure, honest, and heartfelt experiences you can have at the cinema this decade. Telling the story of how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his future wife Emily (Portrayed by Zoe Kazan), The Big Sick shows their love story starting off in a comedy club, to a hospital wait room, to New York as this magical film shows us how love transcends all cultural barriers. Nanjiani is an open book here as a writer and as an artist, telling a part of his life story with the sincerity and honesty needed to make it work. He spits out clever one-liners like they’re coming out of a comedy machine, yet he also embodies the emotional turmoil needed to make his story tragically believable, not just entertaining. Director Michael Showalter directs the entire cast impeccably here, making every scene feel genuine and down-to-Earth. If The Big Sick feels real, that’s because it is. Four stars.

1. War for the Planet of the Apes

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

An epic and emotional conclusion to this prequel trilogy that functions as a summer blockbuster, a war drama, and a somber tragedy all at once. When the apes’ forest home is raided and the apes are left broken and displaced, their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) sets out on a journey for vengeance against the humans who took the lives of his primate brethren and end this insufferable war. Featuring a masterful performance by the motion-capture king Andy Serkis himself, War for the Planet of the Apes is an intimate, intense personal drama disguised as an action blockbuster, equal parts powerful, emotional, and morally conflicting. Writer-director Matt Reeves pulls inspiration from all of the greatest war classics in this inspired, original take on the Planet of the Apes franchise, throwing his characters through compelling, thought-provoking scenarios as opposed to mindlessly action-packed ones. The visual effects are also at their best in the series, not only accurately animating the apes’ physical characteristics and mannerisms, but also their facial expressions and emotional reactions. The best Planet of the Apes movie out of the series by far, and my pick for film of the year. Four stars.


That’s all for this list, folks. Thank you for spending part of the new year with me and my favorite films from 2017. Tune in next year for when I rate the top 10 nuclear missiles that Kim Jong-Un will inevitably fire at us.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Let the past die.

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) tells Rey (Daisy Ridley) that there are three Jedi lessons that she needs to learn, but he only teaches her two of them. I don’t believe that was a mistake, but rather an intentional omission. That’s because Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film about our heroes letting us down, our expectations not being met, and our resolutions failing to be reached. Such is true because such is life. How else would you explain the untimely death of our beloved princess, Carrie Fisher?

The Last Jedi picks up immediately after the events of The Force Awakens, when Rey realizes she too possess the force and needs guidance from Skywalker on how to use it. Meanwhile, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are on the run with the rest of the resistance from the First Order, who is relentlessly hunting them after they blew up Starkiller base. While this is going on, Ben Solo a.k.a. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is in a power struggle with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) in between Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who commands them both. A lot of moving pieces here, a lot of things happening all at once. Just like every Star Wars movie.

Here is a film that works better aesthetically than it does literally. Spring-boarding off of the momentum that The Force Awakens started years ago, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is used mostly as a platform for nostalgia, calling out to earlier iconic moments in the series and bringing them into the fold while simultaneously challenging our ideas of these characters. Like any Star Wars movie, there were a lot of things that I loved watching play out here. Other times, I found myself frustrated and confused by some of the creative decisions being made in this film. But let’s slow down and digest one thing at a time.

First of all, the visual effects and the action are nothing short of gorgeous, with the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, lightsabers, droids, and creatures across the galaxy reaching out to you and placing you vividly in the moment, whether it involves big spectacular CGI-heavy sequences or smaller, quieter moments where we simply appreciate the breathtaking scenery. No doubt this visual prowess has director Rian Johnson’s hand in it, who years earlier directed the gritty and grounded sci-fi thriller Looper. In The Last Jedi, he takes a play from creator George Lucas’ handbook and designed the film through practical methods as opposed to computer-generated ones. The film reportedly had 125 sets created for its visual scope, with designer Neal Scalan claiming that The Last Jedi uses more practical effects than any Star Wars film to date. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that were true. The vehicles, the costuming, the scenery, all of it evokes the sensationalism and world building that Star Wars is known for. On the visual front, The Last Jedi serves the Star Wars saga faithfully and beautifully.

And the cast, both old and new, are just as great in The Last Jedi as they’ve always been, with the best of these frontrunners being Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill. Ridley once again brings the gravitas and the force (pun intended) that she first brought to us in The Force Awakens. Here she really comes into the forefront as a hero all her own, struggling with her own doubts and perceptions of not only what’s going on with her, but with who and what she really needs in her life for personal fulfillment.

Hamill is another story altogether. He doesn’t play the Luke that you remember from the original films; hopeful, adventurous, and believing in the best of everybody. Here he plays Luke with a grimmer façade, a depressing and frail old man filled with penance and regret for the things that he’s done. Like many other passionate fans out there, I didn’t know what to expect from Luke in The Last Jedi. I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Yet, even though he’s a different character, Hamill shows that he’s still got that Skywalker blood flowing in him that he embodied in the original trilogy. It’s a different portrayal of Luke for sure, but it isn’t a bad one. Not by a long shot.

As a whole, The Last Jedi delivers on the same sci-fi blockbuster fronts that all of the best Star Wars movies delivers on. The action, the heart, the humor; all of it evokes the same feelings you had when you watched the original Star Wars movies, and the nostalgic Easter Eggs only adds to the appeal. There was one cameo in the movie that had me just grinning from ear to ear, taking me back to when I was a kid watching Yoda training Luke for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back.

Yet, the story has made some dark, drastic changes to the Star Wars saga that severely impacts how the series is going to move forward. I’m not saying they’re bad changes. I’m saying they’re hard to adjust to. Like the prequel series, Star Wars: The Last Jedi turns the original trilogy on its head and challenges the way we perceive these characters and how they should act and behave. No, The Last Jedi is not as bad as The Phantom Menace. It does, however, challenge your identity as a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the movie twice now, and there are still three or four scenes I’m still digesting on whether I liked them or not. I know most fans would just like to go into a Star Wars movie, turn off their brain, and let the experience wash over them ethereally. The Last Jedi makes you think a little harder about it, particularly with the scenes that surprised or shocked you the most.

Ultimately, I find myself conflicted with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As a simple viewer, I know I enjoyed what I watched. As a critic, I know I was witnessing skillful filmmaking at work here. But as a fan, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by some of the changes that were happening to some of my favorite cinematic heroes growing up. Perhaps that’s the point. Do these characters stay the same as the years pass them by, or do they change as time and tragedy slowly cripples them? Anakin Skywalker grew up to become Darth Vader, while his son Luke grew up to become the last Jedi. We can only imagine what will happen to Rey as she too faces the future.

Tagged , , , , ,